We all know that Hollywood ran out of original ideas years ago, which is one of the main reasons that a lot of people don’t go to the movies much anymore. However, the past 2 weeks (and the upcoming week) are an epic disaster straight out of the Hollywood of yesteryear, except worse.
Satellite loop showing from left to right, Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose. Loop provided by NOAA.
If this were the plot of a movie, would you go see it?
A tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blows up to a Category 4 hurricane and makes landfall, creating widespread damage along the Texas coast. Then, we stall the storm, have it sit there for days, and drop upwards of 4 feet of rain on Texas, resulting in some of the worst flooding ever seen. Just to make it worse, we’ll have the flooding centered around Houston, the 4th largest city in the nation. Then, after sitting there for a few days, we’ll have it go back into the Gulf of Mexico, strengthen a little, and head northward, making landfall again in Louisiana, dumping 1-3 feet of rain on that state and nearby parts of Texas that just barely missed out on the first batch. As that storm moves inland and finally dissipates, we’ll have another storm form way out in the Atlantic. That storm will grow into a beast – one of the strongest storms ever observed in the Atlantic. It head towards the islands in the Caribbean, and lay waste to a few of them, destroying pretty much everything in its path as it shatters records for strength and intensity. Then, after crossing the Bahamas, it’ll take aim at Florida, going on a near-worst-case scenario track for the entire state. It’ll make landfall in southern Florida as a Category 4 or 5 storm, and head due north, bringing hurricane conditions to pretty much the entire state, except maybe the Panhandle. Not only that, but we’ll have the worst conditions, the ones in the eyewall, pass right over heavily-populated Miami and Fort Lauderdale. While everyone is paying attention to the massive storm heading for Florida, we’ll have not one, but TWO more hurricanes develop, one in the Atlantic and another one in the Gulf. For the one in the Atlantic, we’ll have it blow up into a Category 4 storm, and then head right towards the same islands that just got wiped out 2 days earlier by the first storm. For the one in the Gulf, we’ll have it head towards Mexico. But wait, that’s not enough. While the folks in Mexico are preparing for a hurricane, we’ll have an 8.2 magnitude earthquake nearby, the strongest quake to impact Mexico in 100 years.
That’s the basic script, except it’s not a Hollywood creation, it’s the real thing. So, let’s get right to the details.
Computer model forecasts for the track of Irma. Image provided by Tropical Tidbits.
As of early Friday afternoon, Hurricane Irma was a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph. It was centered about 380 miles southeast of Miami, moving towards the west at 14 mph. Hurricane Warnings and Storm Surge Warnings are in effect for most of central and southern Florida, as well as the Bahamas and Cuba, with Hurricane Watches for much of northern Florida. Don’t let the fact that Irma has weakened to a Category 4 fool you. This is still a powerful storm, and its intensity will fluctuate for the next 24-36 hours. It could very easily regain Category 5 status, and will likely make landfall in Florida as a Category 4 or 5 storm.
Irma will continue on a general west-northwest track today, as it moves around the southern edge of a ridge of high pressure. At some point in the next day or so, it’ll reach the southwestern edge of that ridge and make a sharp right turn. Exactly when that turn occurs is key to landfall. Right now, it looks it’ll move across the Upper or Middle Keys, and then make landfall in extreme southwestern Florida Sunday morning. The good news is that this is where the Everglades are, and very few people live there. The bad news is that since it’s mostly the Everglades, the storm surge may penetrate very far inland. That’s not the end of the bad news though. The current track brings the storm virtually due northward, which means that for Sunday into early Monday, the storm will head right up the middle of Florida. Yes it’ll be weakening, but should maintain hurricane strength until it gets close to the Florida/Georgia border. That means, hurricane conditions for much of the state, except possibly the Panhandle. Wait, it gets worse. The worst conditions will be in the eyewall, just to the right of the center. With the storm heading northward, that means east of the center. Where will that eyewall be Sunday morning? Right over downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale. When Hurricane Andrew hit the region 25 years ago, it was a tiny storm. Even though it wiped out communities just south of Miami, downtown itself was largely spared, and Fort Lauderdale fared even better. That will not likely be the case this time, as Irma is considerably larger. Even places farther to the north, such as Orlando, may see wind gusts upwards of 90 mph. The theme park itself has been closed for a while now, but much of central Florida will get to experience “Wet n’ Wild” once again. While flooding won’t be on the scale of Harvey, rainfall totals of 8-16 inches and locally heavier are possible across Florida, which will lead to some flooding problems.
Model forecasts for the track of Hurricane Jose. Image provided by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
While all attention has been focused on Irma, Hurricane Jose has blown up into a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic. As of early Friday afternoon, Jose was centered a little more than 380 miles east-southeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving toward the west-northwest at 18 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 150 mph, and some fluctuations in intensity are expected for the next day or two. Jose should continue towards the west-northwest for another day or so before turning more towards the northwest. Unfortunately, that track will bring Jose very close to the islands in the northern Leeward Islands. These are the same islands that Irma just devastated a couple of days ago. Hurricane Watches have been posted for many of these islands, with Tropical Storm Watches farther south and west. The Tropical Storm Watches do not indicate that weakening is expected. They just show that those islands should be far enough from the center that they will “only” receive tropical storm conditions, and not hurricane conditions. Once Jose gets past the islands, things get a little more murky. Jose should head into the open Atlantic and start to weaken, but it will also slow down, and perhaps stall as high pressure builds in to its north. By the middle of next week, there is plenty of disagreement among the models as to where Jose will go. Some models have the high pressure area retreating, which will allow Jose to head back into the open Atlantic. Others have the high pressure area strengthening, which would send Jose westward, towards the Bahamas and possibly the East Coast. It is WAY too early to figure out which solution is more plausible at this point. So, we may be dealing with Jose at some point again next week.
GFS model forecast for rainfall across the Gulf of Mexico over the next 4 days. Irma will produce torrential rainfall across Florida, while the smaller Katia will bring heavy rain to parts of Mexico. Image provided by WeatherBell.
Wait, don’t stop reading now! We’ve got even more to talk about! In the Gulf of Mexico we have Hurricane Katia! As of midday Friday, Katia was centered about 125 miles north-northeast of Veracruz, Mexico, drifting toward the west-southwest at 5 mph. Katia is a Category 2 Hurricane, with top winds near 100 mph. Hurricane Warnings are in effect for parts of the Mexican coastline. Katia should make landfall tonight, then rapidly weaken once moving inland, as it encounters the mountainous terrain of Mexico. While this will keep wind damage confined to coastal areas, it makes the threat of flooding and mudslides even worse. Rainfall totals of 10-20 inches and locally heavier are likely in this area over the next few days.
Oh, and if that’s not enough, another tropical wave will emerge from the coast of Africa this weekend. Several computer models show the potential for that system to develop as it moves across the Atlantic next week. So, the suddenly active Hurricane Season of 2017 will likely roll on well into September.